Public bureaucracies across the globe face a converging, escalating crisis as our societies become increasingly unequal, demands for affordable living conditions increase, public space declines, frenzied finance movements rattle domestic economies and a rising reaction to mass migration engenders fear and uncertainty.
Add to this a digitizing world with its disruptive technologies is providing both vast opportunities and threats. There are responses, some sudden and dangerous to overcome the effects of a turbo-charged capitalism, and the rise in populism, which divides the world into ‘patriots’ and ‘globalists’, is just a foretaste of what is to come.
We are in the midst of redesigning the world and all its systems for 21st century conditions. There is a massive, urgent task ahead for bureaucracies to help create a fairer more equal world buttressed by an incentives and regulatory regime to match. Its principles should be to bend the market to bigger picture purposes. This needs a bureaucracy that can draw on all its ethical, creative and intellectual resources and reclaim a distinctive leadership role, but framed in a 21st century context. Increasingly it is accepted that complex problems or deeper trends, areas we expect bureaucracies to lead on, will demand new ways of thinking and problem solving and especially the ability to partner and to connect across public, private and community divides.
We argue that:
- There is a reservoir of hidden potential and talent locked up in public bureaucracies. People can do much more if given the chance. This can unleash their discretionary effort. But hard wired, rigid approaches within and across administrative systems, organizations, and individuals constrain what is possible.
- The inability to tap the creative agility of the bureaucracy to solve problems is wasteful and digitization with its interactive opportunities can refresh our thinking to solve problems in new ways and reinvigorate democratic processes and the work experience.
- There is a direct link between the creativity of the bureaucracy and the success of a city. It’s impossible to have an economically and socially successful city that is agile, attractive and sustainable without an inventive, creative, engaged bureaucracy.